JEFF KNAPP: Big Mahoning offers nice smallmouth bass
July 08, 2014 10:30 AM
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Wading in from the shallow side of Mahoning Creek, I put myself in position to make a long cast toward the deep slot that hugged the far bank.

The four-inch twister tail grub, which was neatly dressed on a quarter-ounce jighead, splashed down a few inches from shore. I quickly engaged the spinning reel and began a steady, swimming retrieve.

As the grub approached a large submerged rock, a spirited smallmouth bass intercepted it. Moments later it was airborne.

A relatively brief but intense struggle followed, then the hefty creek smallie was landed, photographed and released.

[PHOTO: Tom Ference admired a Mahoning Creek smallmouth bass that was taken during an outing last weekend. (Jeff Knapp/Gazette photo)]

Mahoning Creek — known by many as Big Mahoning to distinguish it from the popular Little Mahoning Creek — represents what’s a commonly overlooked fishing opportunity in much of Pennsylvania: easy to wade warmwater streams that support nice populations of smallmouth bass.

My friend Tom Ference and I fished Mahoning Creek over Independence Day weekend. Though a popular angling time on many waters, we had the place to ourselves, save a small flotilla of kayaks that passed by early in the outing. During the three-hour trip we landed 10 smallmouth bass up to 16 inches, as well as two chunky largemouth bass in the 13 to 14 inch range.

Typically Mahoning Creek would be low and clear, a condition that often equates into tough fishing. But with the rainy summer we’ve had its flow was more akin to what’s experienced during the spring.

I suspect many folks bypass the sport places like Mahoning Creek provide. Though hardly remote, getting to most stream sections involves hiking a ways. What little fishing does occur usually happens at easy-to access spots like bridge crossings and roadside turnouts.

Walk a hundred yards upstream or down from such a place and chances are it’s seldom fished, particularly during the summer, when the vegetation can be thick, the air hot and sticky, and the biting insects up-and-at-’em.

But the payoff is often worth the effort. Few fish provide as fine an account of themselves as the smallmouth bass, particularly ones bred in flowing waters. While smallmouth bass are the mainstays of such streams, often what’s on the other end of the line can be a surprise.

For instance, the two largemouths Tom caught last weekend.

Most likely these were fish that were temporary transplants from Mahoning’s lake section, when water was backed up for many extra miles when in a recent flood control mode.

Interestingly, even though they were in the free-flowing portion of the steam, both were taken from protected, wood-clogged pockets found behind a house-sized boulder. Even in a small venue like this the two species showed their habitat preferences.

It doesn’t take a lot of tackle to catch creek smallies.

A selection of lures that include a few Rapala-style minnowbaits should be part of the kit, as well as short, deep diving crankbaits like the 2-inch Rapala Fat Rap and the Rebel Crawfish.

Also carry a few 4- to 5-inch Fluke-style soft jerkbaits as well as some 4-inch Senko-style stickbaits.

Worm-style wide gap hooks in the 1/0 size will fish both baits well.

All of this, as well as a couple bottles of water, fit nicely in a small waist pack.

As far as rod/reel combos, it’s tough to beat a 6.5 foot medium power fast action spinning rod with an appropriately-sized open face spinning reel.

I like fishing 20-pound test braided line with a 10-pound test fluorocarbon leader — it’s sensitive and doesn’t stretch — but 8 pound nylon monofilament will do nicely was well.

During our recent outing Tom and I used waders — the water being an unseasonably cool 65 degrees — but wet wading with old sneakers is often a good option when flows are their more typical lower/warmer summer self.

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